Fact sheet
2 - 2018

Part 1: Considering the environment when planning, building and operating

Developed by Senior Researcher Arne Nesje, commissioned by the Norwegian Building Ceramics Association.

There is an increasing demand for environmental awareness when selecting materials, as well as a requirement for environmental assessment and documentation. A tile construction consists of several components that each affect the environment in different ways. This is the first for more fact sheets, where we will discuss how tiled surfaces appear in an environmental perspective.

This is what we mean by environmental planning

The entire building industry is encouraged to build with materials that cause small strain on the environment. The suppliers must be able to provide documentation of the impact their products have on the environment. The term sustainability can be defined and interpreted in several different ways. It can be the effect on the indoor environment, emission into the air or water, or energy consumption. It can also be factors such as a long lifespan, low maintenance need and costs, or need for cleaning, upgrading etc. Different ways of documenting the environment in the form of environmental declarations or life cycle analyses have been developed in order to document some of these properties.

Explanation by the term "Environmental product Declaration - EPD"

EPD is a short document that sums up the environmental profile of a component, a finished product or a service, in a standarised and objective manner. The abbreviation EPD is used both in Norway and internationally, and stands for Environmental Product Declaration. An EPD is either product specific, or summed up on a sector level, i.e the national average numbers of products produced and used in the sector. For instance, if a building should be environmentally classified according to the BREEAM-NOR system, extra points are awarded if you are able to obtain an EPD for at least 15 building products in the building. Before EPD documentation can be provided, a PCR (Product Category Rule) is developed. Based on an LCA (life-cycle assessment), it is determined which materials the analysis must include. The manufacturer then states the content of materials with a significant environmental impact in the product. This makes it possible to compare the envirionmental impact of several products in the same product group.
An increasing number of manufacturers have obtained EPDs for their products, such as tiles, powder-based products (adhesives, grouts), boards, and membranes, so that environmental data is easily accessible for the users. Environmental data is accessible from the manufacturers, and through the product database of NOBB and Cobuilder.

The producers must meet requirements from the authorities

Byggteknisk forskrift (TEK17) requires that materials and products in buildings must be produced with a reasonable energy usage without unnecessary environmental impact throughout the lifespan of the building, including demolition or refurbishment. No products can produce emissions that pose a threat to the health or the environment of the air and the earth. If a product can be recycled, information about this must be provided. A product pamphlet and EHS (Environment, health and safety) documentation in at least one Scandinavian language must be provided for products where this is relevant. All powder-based products that are used in tile constructions, i.e. adhesives, tile grout, screed, filler, contain many different chemicals. The manufactures are required to supply information about these materials, develop a security report, perform risk management and ensure safe use. If materials with a significant health and environmental risk (so-called substances of very high concern, or SVHC) are used, they must be registered in the Candidate list. Thus, the industry is required to inform the public and the authorities.

epd dokument
Figure 1: Example of an EPD document for a wet room plate

Rules on emission requirements

The building authorities have, through the Byggteknisk forskrift (TEK17), decided that only lowemission products must be used indoors. The properties that are subject to the requirements are if the chemicals can pollute the air. Ceramic tiles do not produce emissions and therefore no documentation is required. Products such as e.g. elastic joint sealants and membranes must provide documentation of the fact that the emission into the air is low. Emission tests on finished materials can be done several ways, the most used one for European products is the Emicode. The system was originally developed by GEV in Germany. It uses a three-part classification, where EC1 PLUS is the highest level, followed by EC1 and EC2. For products that must have Teknisk Godkjenning (Eng: Technical Approval), SINTEF Byggforsk requires emission documentation according to the Finnish classification system RTS. Based on testing, RTS uses a classification system ranging from M1 to M3, where M1 is the best. The method emphasises testing of ammonia, smell-testing by a test panel, and the test therefore differs somewhat from the German Emicode testing.

Figure 2: Two different methods and badges used for emission documentation
merker emisjonsdokumentasjon

Environmental status for the products in the tile industry

Ceramic claddings include many types of products with different composition and properties. The table sums up facts about the environmental status of the different materials.

Table 1: Facts about the different materials in a tile cladding
Material groupFacts about the product group

Ceramic tiles

  • Many tile manufacturers have developed environmental documentation in the form of LCA or EPD analyses. The suppliers can therefore, in most cases, obtain this information either at a factory or national level.
  • The European ceramics industry has developed a strategic plan up until 2050 for reducing CO2 by reducing the amount of fossil fuels in production.
  • Modern production technology with fully automatic, well-controlled factories has led to a high percentage of tiles in class 1, a lower percentage of waste and thereby better utilisation of raw materials and energy usage.
  • New production technology with thinner products ensures lower weight, and thereby less production and transportation strains per m2.
  • Coordination of transportation services, e.g. cooperation between different factories in Italy has reduced the transportation strains in the sense that trailer trucks are utilised optimally.

Cement-based products such as adhesives, tile grout, screed, concrete layers etc.

  • Globally, cement-based products comprise 4-5 % of climate gas emissions.
  • Cement-based products is an important component of tiled surfaces, and per today there are no good alternatives that meet the requirements for both quality and properties while being more environmentally friendly.
  • The consumption of cement-based products in the tile sector constitute a very small portion (1-1.5 ‰) of the annual total consumption of cement in Norway.
  • The cement and concrete industry have a lot of environmental documentation in the form of LCA or EPD analyses. The suppliers may therefore, in many cases, obtain this information either at a factory or national level.
  • The cement industry constantly strives to decrease the environmental strain their products cause, and they often provide both EPD and other types of environmental documentation with their deliveries.

Fluid membranes (one-component organic membranes and two-component cement-based fluid membranes) and membranes made of plastic or rubber

  • The different membrane types that are used cover a wide range of raw materials depending on product group.
  • Most of the products are imported from countries such as Germany, Denmark and Italy, in addition to some production in Norway.
  • Concerning weight and volume, the membrane products constitute only a very small portion of the materials used in a building.
  • Many manufacturers have developed EPD or other forms of environmental documentation for their membrane products.
  • The manufacturers that have the SINTEF Byggforsk Teknisk Godkjenning have emission documentation for their membrane products.
  • The manufacturers that use chemicals which may pose health risks are registered in the Reach register, and security reports for such raw materials are available.
  • Materials that pose a serious health and environmental risk (so-called substances of very high concern, or SVHC) are registered in the European Candidate list.

Polystyrene boards

  • The boards mainly consist of a core material made out of XPS, including a cement- or epoxy-based surface treatment.
  • Most boards are imported from countries such as Germany and India. Some of the production is done in Norway.
  • In terms of weight, boards products constitute only a very small portion of the materials used in a building.
  • Several manufacturers have developed EPD or other forms of environmental documentation for their membrane products.
  • The manufacturers that have the SINTEF Byggforsk Teknisk Godkjenning have emission documentation for their membrane products.
  • The manufacturers that use chemicals which may pose health risks are registered in the Reach register, and security reports for such raw materials are available.
  • Materials that pose a serious health and environmental risk (so-called substances of very high concern, or SVHC) are registered in the European Candidate list.

Guidance and recommendations for decision-makers

The choices made by architects, consultants, planners, builders, suppliers of materials and owners all affect the environment. If you have knowledge about environmental consequences, you also have the opportunity to select materials that are sustainable. Some important aspects are summed up in table 2.

Table 2: Advice for planning and selecting materials

Summary of some aspects that are useful to follow

Advice for planning and selecting materials

Give priority to the most central and effective options

Regarding environmentally friendly options, focus on the big volume product groups that you use in the construction. These areas will yield the greatest results if you compare the different solutions with the different environmental profiles. Products that only constitute a small percentage of the materials used in a building will not make a great difference, environmentally speaking.

Ask for relevant documentation

Select products that have documentation on environmental properties. Ask for documentation from the supplier(s) you plan to use. There are several methods, the most frequently used being EPD. In the ceramics sector there are EPD analyses both on the sector level and the factory/product level.

Long-term thinking is sustainable when selecting products and solutions

Select products that have a documented long lifespan and that require little maintenance. Check what the expected lifespan is or how often the products need to be replaced or refurbished.

Put focus on indoor climate.

We spend a good portion of our time indoors, and a good indoor climate is important. Ceramic tiles give no emission to air. Other products on indoor surfaces in contact with indoor air such as e.g. joint sealant and membranes must have emission documentation according to the Emicode or M classification.

Materials containing not preferred substances should be avoided?

A method of finding this out is by looking at the candidate list or the A20 list from BREEAM-NOR to check if a material contains substances that should be avoided.

Sources:

  • NBKF instruction manual 3 (2018): Sustainable constructions with ceramic tiles
  • GEV, Association for the Control of Emissions in Products for Flooring Installation, Adhesives and Building Materials e. V.
  • TEK17 Byggteknisk forskrift